Looking For The Light

Several years ago a young man named Michael, who worked with Dan, was killed. He was hit by a car while playing Good Samaritan. He had stopped on the side of a highway to help someone who had a flat. It was one of those things in life that make you pause and ask “Why?” There are memories of moments like which bring me to look at things in a different perspective. Let’s face it, we are all self-centered and a little narcissistic in our misery. Some of us need to talk about it just to blow off steam, others wear their misery like a badge of honor, showing themselves to the world as if to say, “Look at me, I can handle this, I’m strong. I don’t let things get me down.” Some of us crawl inside ourselves, we don’t let anyone in, and build walls that say, “Stay out. I don’t need anyone.” I think in my case there is without a doubt some self-pity going on, but can you blame me? Yes, I am putting my misery out there for the world to see, but I think I in many ways am doing something really good here. My life at the moment is pretty much your basic nightmare, loss of job, loss of house, not knowing what’s next, but in all the darkness, in all my public decrees of misery, there is something more, there are the bright spots of friendship and support from family and friends, but in the center of it all there is love. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating. What is happening to us could tear people apart, but Dan and I continue to get stronger and closer each and every day. Despite what I have lost, and continue to lose, nothing can take that away from me. While packing my life away yesterday, I came across the card from Michael’s funeral. I never met Michael, but I hung on to this card because of what it said on the reverse, “Once in a while you will get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if you look at it right.” I loved it when I read it, and these days I grab the moments of light every chance I get. I mentioned the quote to Dan, who told me it is from the Grateful Dead. A twenty-five year old man died doing the decent thing. I have a wonderful, decent man right here, and he is struggling as much as I am, but every single day he makes me laugh or smile, he tries to take the worry from my shoulders. I am sad, a little depressed, exhausted and worried, but I am loved. To quote another song, “Who could ask for anything more?” Another positive for today. A small step in the right direction, I worked.  I played around a little with my pastel chalk, a spray bottle of bleach, and a little starry night thanks to a paint program. I think the piece is pretty self-explanatory. IMG_9203

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Writing By The Rules

I received an email not long ago from the folks at WordPress. I’m sure many of you may have received it as well. It was about avoiding the grammar police. I didn’t read the email, although maybe I should have, but I’m pretty sure my grammar isn’t all that terrible. I did of course have English in school, but I finished school more than thirty years ago. Sister Charlotte, my freshman year English teacher was deaf. Seriously deaf. So deaf that we obnoxious young ladies of St. Scholastica would run our pencils along the grated book holder attached to the desk when her back was turned just to make sure. She was a very sweet old woman, far nicer than we probably deserved. It was the year in high school that we were supposed to be focused on grammar, but sadly we didn’t learn a lot. It was there however that I discovered my favorite book, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. All these years later it is still my favorite. I reread it from time to time for pleasure.

The other year in my academic life that was focused on grammar was seventh grade. Mr. Helms, a former Boys Town educator, was my teacher. We were terrified of him. Rumor had it that he killed a kid at Boys Town. There was a boy in my class, Austin H., a troubled kid who I later heard sadly died young. He acted out in class one day and Mr. Helms took him out into the hallway. I’m not sure what happened, but everyone swore there was blood on the wall. I don’t think he even noticed me, well except to call me Marion. Marion is my older sister, she is blond, I was not. Unfortunately seventh grade was also the year my eyes abandoned me. I desperately needed glasses. It took me the entire school year to convince my Mom that I was blind, so essentially I missed the whole year. I couldn’t see the board if my life depended on it, and I was far too afraid of Mr. Helms to talk to him. I suffered in silence. These days thanks to “spell-check” my spelling is usually correct. Except that once in a while it changes a word on me that I don’t catch until the next day when Dan points it out. I don’t know about anyone else, but I swear I read and reread several times before I publish, yet there it is, the wrong word. It happened to me just last night. As for the spelling, I recently heard about a German study that is going on. The German scientists are testing their theory that when we get older our memories fail not because we are decrepit (my word, not an official study term), but because our brains have so much information in them that it takes time to push through all the clutter and find what we’re looking for. (Again, me) I love this theory, it makes me happy. As for grammar, I have been corrected from time to time by my children. They are very smart and educated people, so am I, I just don’t put as much thought into sentence structure. I write like I speak, although I probably don’t use as many commas or my infamous ” …’s” when I talk. (Is there a name for …? Dot, dot, dot?? Is it etc.? I forgot, it’s in the back of my cluttered brain) I do care that what I write is readable but I’m more interested in getting the thoughts out of my brain and onto the page than sweeping through the cobwebs in my mind to remember that I am writing a really, really, really run on sentence.

This morning Dan and I had a wonderful hike through the lovely Santa Rosa Plateau. We were fortunate enough to see the vernal pools. Vernal pools, also called vernal ponds or ephemeral pools, are temporary pools of water that provide habitat for distinctive plants and animals. (That sounds really smart doesn’t it? It’s from Wikipedia.) We are lucky enough to have these pools at the Plateau in the Spring. We got out there at about eight thirty. It was sunny, but there was still fog billowing in from the coast. Just beautiful. I was inspired to try to capture some of what we saw in pastel. Pastels are not my strong suit. I find them a difficult medium and don’t understand why I torture myself with them. First photo is my pastel of the vernal pools. The second photo is God’s handiwork, I just snapped the picture.

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Sun Kissed Trees

They’re here, the snowmen. It took me roughly two hours to arrange them, there are far too many, and it seems like an awful lot of work for the amount of time that they are out, but I do love my snowmen. In particular, as I mentioned last night, things my kids make are always my favorites.  The collection was never meant to get this large. I had intended only to collect vintage snowmen, but you know how it is. People think that you want any snowman and they begin to buy them for you. Then thanks to my Catholic brain, I feel too guilty to not put them out. You never know when someone might fly in from Chicago to make sure that the gift they gave me ten years ago is still on display.

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An embroidery project from Brian in the third grade.

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And a reverse glass painting Jessica did at home with me at about age six.IMG_3219

The entire display. We have an old built-in from Chicago that we bought at a salvage yard and restored. It makes a perfect snowman display case.

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All this Christmas decorating doesn’t give me a lot of extra time for art, but I was in the mood to draw tonight. There have been some particularly beautiful sunrises in the last few days, and I wanted to recreate one. I was looking to do something soft so I decided on pastel chalk. I didn’t want to do a complete landscape. I love the way that the morning sun kisses the tops of the trees. 12 18

Treading Water

I don’t swim. Lessons courtesy of the Chicago Park District were an abject failure. I do however do a wonderful dead man’s float, trouble with that is I’m face down. I lack the skill needed to move my arms and legs at the same time. Too much to think about, my head is full of much more interesting stuff. (OK, so I can’t walk and chew gum at the same time. It is definitely a coordination issue.) I bring this all up because I feel like I’m drowning in too much to do-ville. I am miles behind on emails, sorry Lisa, Karen, and anyone else I am behind on. Phone calls? Just family these days for the most part. Seeing friends? I can’t remember what most of them look like. Getting a business started is no easy task. I also have a very big house which is suffering from three cats,glitter, California dust, and a twenty-three year old (I won’t say who….initials B.Z.) then there is this, my project, and it’s accompanying blogging, and then I decided to sell my stuff on etsy, oh and I signed on for not one, but two Christmas shows. We had fast food for dinner tonight. We never, never, ever eat fast food, but as I watch the waves approaching I asked for a life line, Five Guys Burgers, and by the way, I don’t usually eat burgers. Years ago I worked in customer service, I made jokes about becoming an air traffic controller. My job at the desk included, cashing checks, customer complaints, bottle returns (I’m clearing the cobwebs off myself as I speak…), carpet shampooer rentals, answering the phone, taking the cash pick ups from the register, customer returns, film developing, checking in the armored truck delivery, and more. That seems like a cakewalk these days. First of all I’m older, and have less energy, and at least at the grocery store I had fellow employees. Dan does what he can, but there is a lot that is just me. I think I bit off way more…than I was prepared for. (Bet you thought I was going to say “more than I can chew”. I’m right, aren’t I?) I’ll get it done, all of it. I’ll manage to get the house clean for the holidays, make enough fairies to supply a small fairyland army, decorate my home for Christmas, shop for presents, cook, grocery shop, open a business……help! I’m drowning.

For tonight just a little representation of how I am feeling. A little pastel chalk, pencil, and pen. Wait, not so fast. Notice the fish scales forming on my legs, its my confidence growing, one scale at a time. My head should be above water in about a month.. I am a very determined woman. If you see me face down remind me to turn over.11 20

Not Music To My Ears

I’ve been known to air a pet peeve or two here on this blog. I do it for a number of reasons, the first of which is that I sometimes get tired of myself. I began the blog a little on the “woe is me” side of things. I realized that I could only continue to feel sorry for myself for so long. I was boring myself. I wanted to give the people who were kind enough to follow along something interesting to read, and finally because as I pointed out a long time ago, this is my blog I make the rules. This gives me the right to yell to the world about what in life I find annoying. As always I add a disclaimer. This is my opinion, and for me that makes it right. I firmly believe everyone deserves the right to feel what they feel, and I have the right to feel that they are wrong (just kidding…sort of). Today I think I may stand the chance of being agreed with by all. Why? Because today I am going to rant about music. I love music. Not all music. I really hated Country for a long time, but more and more cross over artists have swayed my opinion just a little. I still really dislike some of it, but the torch has been passed. Reggae now reigns supreme in my most hated music category. Can’t stand it, nails on a chalkboard for me. In general my biggest issues tend to be not with the music (except for Reggae, I hate everything about it), but rather the lyrics. I’m a word person. I really listen to the words. When my daughter was a teenager I lectured her severely on the purchase of an Eminem CD. I read the lyrics and was horrified. She received a long lecture on the history of the Women’s Movement, the sacrifices made, rights earned, and how she as a woman should be outraged. I’m sure in her mind she was rolling her eyes, but I felt that strongly about it. What started my little rant today was a phone call that Dan made. He called about an electronics product that we had repaired. The repair isn’t the issue, it was the horrible music he was forced to listen to as he waited. I’m not one that enjoys the loop of the “We will be right with you” robo voice, but I think I would have rather have listened to that. Several weeks ago I was in the Ladies Room of a national restaurant chain, forced to listen to the lyrics, “She got red so now I got the blues”. Kill me now. And in the bathroom no less, no escape. Earlier in the year I actually complained to a very high-end clothing store, again a national chain, because the lyrics I was forced to listen to while on hold were so offensive I wrote them down in order to repeat them to the operator. Does anyone listen to the tracks they are putting on these phones? I’m sure some people would assume I’m a cranky old lady, I’m not. I think I’m the only Lady Gaga fan in the house. It’s just that I want to choose what to listen to, not have it forced on me by some anonymous computer. I also again respect your right to listen to what you want while you drive, but could you turn it down at the stop light? Please? Aren’t those the songs that become the “ear-worms” that you can’t get out of your head? So now I have that rant off my mind, but there is still that song stuck in my head…She got red, so I got blue. Can you hear the sounds of me smacking the side of my head?

My pastels were still out on the table from last night, and I had some beautiful sunflowers from Emily, so Ta Da!  (or is it Ta Dah? who knows?) A project for tonight. A pastel and pencil sketch of my flowers. Perspective is questionable as always, but then it wouldn’t be mine if the perspective was perfect, would it?

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Setting Sun

Steps in the right direction today. We did make the move to set up our home office for our business, and I made an effort (again with Dan’s support) to get to a project earlier in the day. I had planned on working on my grandfather clock, but  need to get a few supplies for that, so I instead had planned on a watercolor. Then I went out as the sun was setting behind the Santa Rosa Mountains. The mountain’s silhouette edged in rose and gold, the sky still clinging to its vibrancy as the sun set over the Pacific. I love watching the sun set here. Unfortunately for me the mountains stand in the way of witnessing it more often, but I’ve seen it enough to imagine how magnificent it is. The rose and gold gave way to an almost turquoise, fading into a deep ultramarine blue. The moon was a near perfect circle edged in white, but forming a crescent to one side. As soon as I saw the sky I knew that my project had changed. I will never have an ego big enough to think I can do justice to Heaven’s palette, but I felt inspired, and knew I needed to try to capture what I saw. I thought about oils, but I decided to give pastels another try. These are soft pastels, chalk like (note to self: Do not use soft pastels while sitting on white couch!) I think I might like to try this same drawing with an oil pastel as well. There have been days during this project when I have struggled with what to do that day. Not feeling inspired, or just being plain lazy. I love feeling inspired and knowing exactly what I want to do.11 5

The Recycler Strikes Again!

I spent the afternoon helping a friend with a very special art project, I failed to ask her permission to use the art, and I don’t feel comfortable using it without her permission.  So tonight as I sit in the garden I decided to do another pastel on newspaper since I enjoyed the results last night. I have some Black-eyed Susan growing in the garden and honestly barely glanced at them, just sort of used the idea of them for inspiration. I grabbed a piece of today’s paper, grabbed my chalk and went to work. Not a masterpiece, just a very enjoyable exercise sitting outside on a beautiful night.

I am itching to get back to oil painting, unfortunately I couldn’t get an appointment with my doctor until the end of the month, and until I know for sure that my lungs are clear, I must behave. I’ve been doing a lot of watercolor since I started this blog, and while I do enjoy it, I get bored using the same materials. I’m thinking it is time to pull out the acrylics. I’ve primarily used acrylics for painting on wood, not as much on canvas. I find them so difficult to maneuver. I think again, it is a matter of practice.  Tomorrow is the day. I actually have an orphaned painting in mind, and looking forward to the challenge.  Wish me luck!7 10

Recycled Art

Anyone who knows me well can tell you that I’m kind of crazy when it comes to recycling. My poor family has been lectured more times than I care to say because I have found something in the trash can that should have been in the recycling.  They live in fear of the recycling police. In my defense I feel like it is one small thing that I can contribute to the world. Then there were also Myra and Emma. Who were they? I’m sure everyone has a story about someone from their childhood that made a lasting impression on them. These ladies lived down the street from us. I believe they were sisters, and one of them unfortunately had something wrong with her face. Rumor had it that she was bitten by a squirrel, (nice children, weren’t we?) I really don’t know what the issue was. Anyway, when these ladies saw a kid pick up trash they rewarded that child with candy. Needless to say our street was clean, although there were some kids known to plant trash in order to be seen picking it up. It must have made quite an impression on me, I can’t stand litter. At one point in my life I owned a home on an alley, my little piece was the cleanest alley you would ever find. Even today I cannot eat in one of those restaurants with the peanut shells on the floor. It drives me insane, I want to grab a broom and sweep it all up.  There were also The Box Car Children. If you never read about them, they were in search of their grandfather, but couldn’t find him, so they made a home in an abandoned box car.  Their entire home was filled with stuff they found at the dump. It made the dump sound very glamorous, (there was no discussion about sanitation or odor) so that explains my obsession with thrift stores and antique stores. (I was obviously an impressionable child) I also believe it is responsible for all of the  various scraps, junk, crap and other materials I have, all with the idea of my turning them into something else. Some of that may actually come to fruition since I am on this journey to use all the supplies in my studio.

For tonight I wanted to give the chalk pastels a shot again. As you may remember, I am not fond of pastel paper, so I grabbed some Bristol. Horrible, wouldn’t blend at all! Then I remembered, several weeks ago I was watching a design show where an artist had been hired to do pen and ink drawings on pieces of newspaper. I loved the results. I grabbed a piece of this mornings paper from the recycling and began drawing. I love it. The chalk works beautifully with the surface of the paper, and I love the combination of the bright chalk sketch against the regimented font of the paper, and I’m recycling!  I want to try this again.

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Putting Life In Perspective

I finished my project for today in the late afternoon. I hadn’t taken the time to post either the drawing, nor the accompanying text until now. Just yesterday I had spoken to Dan about the tone of this blog. I feared it was becoming a little “woe is me”, and quite frankly I have no tolerance for whining. I told him I was planning to expand a little on my personal history, and despite my complaints here of feeling as though my artistic gifts were sorely under appreciated (because it’s true),  all of my history and the people in it, make me who I am. That was the plan, and it seems that with this blog the plans I make the day before are rarely the things that happen.

This morning the line of a poem came to my mind. I haven’t said so here before, but I also like to write, and have done so for years. New plan! I was going to take the line, which by mid-morning had become several lines, and write it all down, and then my intention was to in some way illustrate either by paint or pencil the thoughts I was having. I even had some idea of what it should look like in my head, but then I came downstairs and looked at a drawing that I began yesterday. It is of the niece of one of the dearest friends I have ever had. She is four, and in her short history, (which I will not share) she has had much loss and sadness. I put aside the brilliant epiphany of my poem and began to  finish her portrait.  As I sat here this afternoon working, the news of the tornado in Oklahoma appeared in the news feed on Dan’s phone. We turned on the television in time to see the devastated school. In the course of less than a single day the some of what I feel, the self-pity, the feeling of being inadequate, the chip on my shoulder, seem petty.  Sure, I’m entitled to my own human struggles, everyone is. No ones pain is any less than that of another, because pain, its causes, and its individual effects are just that, individual. But when I look at the face of this beautiful child, her history, her future, and the futures that so many children won’t have, I see my struggles in a different perspective. It doesn’t mean I won’t continue to look at the whys and hows of who I am. It just means that maybe I won’t be so hard on myself. That I will continue to grow as an artist, and in the process become a better, and more whole human being.

A little note about my materials. I worked in a grocery store for more years than I care to think of. It was then that I began to draw on the blank side of the bags. I love the look of chalk on brown paper.

So here is Emily, in pastel chalk and pencil.IMG_9710

Regaining Lost Ground

I’m back, not 100% to say the least.  Very, very bad reaction to some medication, I think it may take a few days to feel better. That being said, I managed to create not one but two pieces today. Dan asked if I felt like I had to do two pieces since I lost the day yesterday. My initial reaction was to say no, but I think deep down maybe I did feel something. As much as there have been those days when I felt pressured, or an obligation to this project, or felt like it is an unwelcome chore, I have gained more than I imagined from it. I have an old leather portfolio, I’ve had it for more than thirty years, and up until the last few weeks it  didn’t have much in it. It isn’t that I haven’t worked at all, I have always kept a toe in the water, but never in my life have I worked this consistently. My portfolio still had work from high school in it. The plastic sleeves are cracked, and the zipper isn’t what it used to be, but I have aged as well. I could go buy a new one, but this portfolio has been waiting for an awful long time to be filled, almost as long as me. Each day I feel more and more authentic in my work, and each night as I slide a finished piece into my portfolio I find myself feeling happy that I haven’t given up. I find myself excited at the prospect of what lies ahead for me and my art. I am taking one day at a time, each day looking through my studio to decide what to do today. I also realize that as I look around my studio that it would take far more than a year to use up all the materials that I have. What no longer seems overwhelming is all of what I own. I will use it all. There may be days in the future like today where I produce more than a single piece of art. I feel as though the chip on my shoulder is fading away. I am no longer focusing on what I can’t do, but rather what I can.

I saw a photo in the New York Times that I found very appealing. It was of a couple of ballerinas, one of which had her back to the camera. I loved the line of her body. I have mentioned that figure drawing is something I haven’t done much of. I jumped right in again and did a watercolor. There are a few sections of it I would like to redo, but watercolor can be an unforgiving medium, so it stays as is. I still love it. My second piece is a pastel. On a drive home from Arizona last year I took some beautiful photos that I wanted to paint. I had a box (unopened) of some soft pastels. A medium I am still not used to using. I like the way the light fell in the photos on the hills, and I’ve managed to capture it fairly well.

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